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May 27th, 2009
From plastics to nanotechnology: Portland State professor Mingdi Yan among leaders in nanotech research
Imagine a future 25 years from now: Many forms of cancer have a cure, every house glistens with solar panels providing carbon-free energy. Water is filtered by nanoparticles.
It is a golden age of science and medicine.
That is the future that nanotechnology—the study of how to control matter on a molecular level—is working toward. This technology has quickly risen to the forefront of scientific research, with advances being made all the time, including at Portland State.
Portland State chemistry professor Dr. Mingdi Yan noted the shift of focus over the past few decades from revolutionary plastics to dynamically flexible nanoparticles.
Leading researchers, including Yan, believe that nanotechnology could hold the key to energy efficiency, cancer treatment, and much more. The United States has even invested federal funds in research initiatives to explore the new technology.
Yan's field of nanotechnology is "surface chemistry." She explains that all matter has a surface that can be seen but it also has other entities that interact with the surface.
According to the Web site for the National Nanotechnology Initiative, the federally funded research program, "Nanotechnology is the understanding and control of matter at dimensions between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers, where unique phenomena enable novel applications."
Yan explained that this seemingly complicated science is frequently applied to medical science.
Implants are the first thing that Yan mentioned. With medical implants the body attaches to a foreign material, and if the body rejects it, the implant doesn't work, she said.
However, if chemists can put a surface coat on the implant that tells the biological system "I'm OK", that would be a technological advance, Yan said.
In drug delivery, nanocoating can become a carrier attached to medicines that target specific tumors and essentially chaperones the drug to its target, she explained.
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